Archive » April 7, 2011
By Pat Murphy, Contributing Writer
Just when you think that Valley country living can’t get any better, something new shows up that is actually very old. For centuries, man has used dogs to help with their work. It started with hunting, guarding and then general farm work. Sheep dogs have long been famous, but now it’s time to celebrate cattle dogs.
On a rainy March weekend, we went out to Rob and Sue Guerra’s ranch in Drum Canyon to watch the Cow Dog Trials. In spite of the blustery weather, a nice crowd had gathered around the large arena. They were watching various horsemen and their working cow dogs gather a small group of cattle, put them through some obstacles and finally into a pipe corral.
The dogs are trained by hand signals, voice commands and whistling. The position of the horse and rider is also a crucial part of it. These are serious dogs, and one can see that they are intent on doing their job well. They respond instantly when their master gives an order, but some struggle with being patient.
“And now in the Open Class we have Mike Estrada and his dog, Joy!” announces Coy Huffman, who speaks in an engaging country twang. He has a real talent for announcing and keeps everything rolling with humorous observations and jolly remarks. He is also the leader of the Cowboy Church, which was scheduled to have a meeting at 7 a.m. the next morning, to enable all contestants to pray for victory.
The event started with the Puppy class, which luckily lets all dogs up to 2 years old enter. Suzie Lunde entered with her pup Abby, Paul McEroe brought Looc (his dog Cool’s puppy), Troy Spoon with Scarlett and Poncho, Dustin Wood with Esther, and Shannon Wood with Kat. Mike Estrada brought Jack, and he also entered the Open class with his dog Dolly. Mike is from Paso Robles and works several cattle ranches near Cholame, including the Bitter Water Ranch.
Another of the contestants was Randy Campbell, manager of the local Cojo Ranch. He entered the Novice Class with his 5-year-old dog, Belle. “I use several dogs together to bring in the cattle on the Cojo, since we have 1,150 cows,” says Randy. “We have Angus and Gelvdie bulls, and we cross them back and forth on the cows.”
“A working dog will get more aggressive in a group,” he continues, “they each want to shine, but still have a sense of working as a team. It’s hard work, so I usually use three or four. I have an older female that really wants to work. But when I let her, the next day she kind of stove up. So I need to be careful with her.”
Do you have certain rules that the dogs have to follow? “Yes, I do! I don’t put up with any biting or fighting. And when we go out on the range, I never let them start chasing ground squirrels, ’cause then that’ll be the first thing they’ll look for. It’s the same with coyotes, no coyote chasing. I don’t want them to be distracted by anything.” Randy didn’t win his class, but since it was the first time working in a ring for both his horse and dog, he got an award for that.
He rides a Quarter Horse and uses Border Collies and Catahoula dogs that originated in Louisiana for herding. Some Catahoulas have spotted coats and “glass eyes” which are a beautiful blue. These interesting, high-energy dogs can be both hunting and working dogs.
The winner of the Novice class was Paul McEnroe and his dog Cool. Three of her offspring were also competing that day and one of them won last year. Cool was also the champion at the Mid-State Fair last year. Coming in 2nd was Taureta Siegalkoff and her dog Sage, 3rd was Dustin Wood with Esther, and 4th was Bruce Siegalkoff with Rudy.
The Puppy Class winner was Troy Spoon with his dog Scarlett, 2nd Dustin Wood with Esther, 3rd Mike Estrada with Jade and 4th Paul McEnroe and Looc. The Open class was won by Morgan Cromer with her dog Keen, 2nd was Sandi Newton with Hub, 3rd place Laurie Batson with Tia and 4th place was again Sandi Newton with Debra. Morgan Cromer also showed the late Van Snow’s dog Becca. Cattle were furnished by Hollister Ranch and John McCarty.
This year’s event was dedicated to the late veterinarian Van Snow, who was an enthusiastic supporter of cow dogs. Those working on this unique and delightful event included Shirley and Bev Leonard, Jim Flemming, Joann Garrick, Darlene Drake, Shelbie Hayes, Dale and Karin Orr, Dustin and Shannon Wood, Sonny Breen, Bill Renihan, and Merle and Sandi Newton. Readers may get further information